Tennessee has fared pretty well against Big Ten teams in recent years, winning its last five games. The most recent win came against Indiana in the 2020 Gator Bowl, when Tennessee scored two touchdowns 30 seconds apart in the fourth quarter to post the 23-22 win. Tennessee’s last four bowl games have been against Big Ten programs, with the Volunteers also beating Nebraska, Iowa and Northwestern.
Purdue is 3-1 in games decided by nine points or less this season. The Boilermakers are trying to reverse a trend by ending the season on a winning note. Eight of the previous nine seasons ended with Purdue losing its final game, including two losses in bowl games.
The Boilermakers are just 1-2 in games that the Las Vegas odds assigned a point spread of six points or less.
The total of 64 is one of the highest for the bowl games.
Purdue was one of the surprise teams in the Big Ten. The Boilermakers, highlighted by two wins over top-five ranked teams, easily surpassed its expected regular-season win total of five. Purdue (+4000) ranked only ahead of Illinois in the preseason odds to win the Big Ten West Division title but only finished a game out of first place.
Tennessee had an expected win total of six and topped that with a win over Vanderbilt in the regular-season finale. The number could have been even higher but the Volunteers lost two of their three games decided by one score.
Game: Tennessee (7-5) vs. Purdue (8-4)
Location: Nissan Stadium, Nashville, Tenn.
Day/Time: Thursday, Dec., 3 p.m. ET
|Tennessee||+4½ (-105)||+165||64 (-110o)|
|Purdue||-4½ (-115)||-190||64 (-110u)|
Offensive Improvement Sparked Tennessee
It’s hard to believe that it has been nearly a decade since the Tennessee Volunteers finished in the top four in the Southeastern Conference in total offense.
However, since putting up 475.9 yards per game to finish second in the SEC in total offense during the 2012 season, the Volunteers finished 12th, 11th, seventh, fifth, 14th, 14th, 12th and 11th in the 14-team SEC in yards per game.
Tennessee is currently fourth with 459 yards per game heading into the bowl game. The Vols had just four games with at least 459 yards in the previous four seasons combined.
Tennessee is 6-0 when scoring at least 45 points this season and 1-5 when held under that number. The Volunteers ended the regular season with 45-42, 60-14 and 45-21 wins to become bowl eligible.
Injuries on offense have forced Tennessee to adopt a next-man-up approach. Seven players have rushed for at least 129 yards but quarterback Hendon Hooker is the only one to play all 12 games. The good news is that leading rusher Jabari Small recorded his second 100-yard rushing game against Vanderbilt in the regular-season finale.
Tennessee doesn’t put up gaudy passing numbers but the Volunteers have thrown for more than 300 yards in three of the last four contests.
The total set by the college football odds has gone over in seven of Tennessee’s last eight games.
Three Players to Watch
Quarterback Hendon Hooker has thrown for 2,567 yards with 26 touchdowns and only three interceptions. He has also rushed for 561 yards and five touchdowns. Receiver Cedric Tillman leads Tennessee with 57 catches, 931 yards and nine touchdown catches. Linebacker Jeremy Banks has 108 tackles, nine tackles for loss and 4.5 sacks.
Quarterback Hendon Hooker and running back Tyron Evans are questionable. Offensive lineman Kingston Harris and linebacker Juwan Mitchell are out.
O’Connell Thriving at QB1 for Purdue
After splitting time with Jack Plummer in the previous two seasons, Aidan O’Connell has taken full advantage of receiving the majority of the snaps at quarterback.
Plummer attempted 365 passes and O’Connell 300 during the 2019 and 2020 seasons. Plummer threw 97 passes in the first three games. O’Connell had just 29 passes attempted during that span, and after going 12 of 19 in a win over Illinois, he took over as Purdue’s quarterback. He threw for 375 and 536 yards in upsets of Iowa and Michigan State as Purdue was bestowed the Spoilermakers nickname.
O’Connell completed more than 74 percent of his passes in each of the last seven games and didn’t throw an interception in the last five games of the regular season.
O’Connell had 3,174 yards while completing 73.5 percent of his passes with 23 touchdown passes and eight interceptions. O’Connell announced his intentions to return for the 2022 season while Plummer will be transferring to California.
• What type of feedback did Aidan O’Connell get from the NFL?
• When did he decide to return for a sixth season?
The #Purdue QB discusses his decision to come back in 2022.
— GoldandBlack.com (@GoldandBlackcom) December 20, 2021
The bowl game will provide a different challenge as leading receiver David Bell won’t risk an injury, opting out of the game to prepare for the NFL Draft .
Purdue has covered against the college football spreads in four of its last five games.
Three Players to Watch
O’Connell has thrown for 3,174 yards. He has completed 73.5 percent of his passes with 23 touchdown passes and eight interceptions. Receiver Milton Wright had 57 catches and 732 receiving yards. He could be featured even more in the Purdue passing game with Bell skipping the bowl game. Linebacker Jaylan Alexander leads the Boilermakers with 94 tackles and 7.5 tackles for loss.
Bell and defensive end George Karlaftis opted out of the bowl game after entering the NFL Draft. Running back Ja’Quez Cross, receiver Mershawn Rice, cornerback Cory Trice and Abdur-Rahmaan Yaseen are out.
Betting on the Game
Purdue will be without the leading receiver in the Big Ten (Bell) and Karlaftis, who had 11½ tackles for loss. That could impact how those who bet online view this bowl game.
Purdue is one of three Big Ten teams to score touchdowns on less than 50 percent of its red-zone trips.
Tennessee is second in the SEC with 94 tackles for loss.
The total has gone under in eight of Purdue’s last 12 games, but the total has gone over in four of the last five games against SEC opponents.
Purdue is 11-4 in its last 15 games when listed as an underdog.
The total has gone over in the last five games when Tennessee was a favorite.